Sanchez Breakdown: Jets Offense Grounded in Pittsburgh

Rob Celletti breaks down Mark Sanchez’s performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 2

Stat Line: – 10/27, 138 Yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions – 66.6 QB rating, 37.0 completion percentage (yikes)

Season Stat Line – 29/54, 404 yards, 4 touchdowns, 1 interception – 95 QB Rating, 53.7 completion percentage

To put it as simply as possible, two good drives are never going to be enough to win an NFL game. Ditto, just two trips to the red zone, as illustrated in this fancy graphic that all the stat-heads out there will surely enjoy. The Jets had issues in all three phases of the game, and the issues on offense weren’t only a function of poor quarterback play, but this is the place we discuss Mark Sanchez, so discuss him we will.

The Best: The first drive seemed to be a continuation of the week 1 success against the Buffalo Bills. This is what I expected the Jets to do most of the game to a Pittsburgh defense that was missing two of its impact players.  Sanchez and company responded to Pittsburgh’s opening drive field goal by marching right down the field, keyed by a big 45 yard hook-up with Jeremy Kerley where Sanchez again utilized a pump-fake to send Ryan Clark the wrong way before dropping a perfect, in-stride ball over three Steelers defenders for the big gain. Three plays later, a deft play-action fake and easy pickings on a quick slant to Santonio Holmes had the Jets up 7-3.

The Worst: Pretty much everything after the first drive was troublesome.  All of a sudden, Sanchez was out of synch with his receiving corps. Notable miscues happened with Jeff Cumberland and Jeremy Kerley, and after a solid opening drive, Santonio Holmes dropped a slew of catchable passes and in the end caught just three of the 11 balls thrown his way. The chemistry issues between Holmes and Sanchez have been discussed at length, but they’re worth noting again here. This is simply something that must be solved in order for the Jets to have a successful 2012 season. For better or worse, Holmes is the most experienced playmaker the Jets have, and if he and Sanchez aren’t on the same page, the offense will continue to sputter.

After the first drive, Sanchez completed just 6 of his next 22 passes (that’s 27.2%, for those of you scoring at home). The Jets did not enter the red zone after their second drive (they got to the 19 yard line), coming closest on their final, garbage time drive which ended at Pittsburgh’s 30 yard line. Sanchez also took some legitimate hits (including a rightly-penalized blow to the head), which was to be expected against Dick LeBeau’s defense. While I don’t think he was ever downright skittish, it’s clear that Sanchez was less decisive with the ball as the game wore on and Pittsburgh’s defense asserted itself.

The Key Moment: While I would love to harp on the Jets’ lack of aggressiveness at the end of the first half, I’ll keep the discussion to Sanchez, who said after the game that running the clock out was ultimately Tony Sparano’s decision.  A colleague of mine pointed out that after Sanchez missed Holmes for a would-be touchdown on the Jets second drive, everything seemed to stall out thereafter. It’s a good point. Watching the play again, it’s a terrific play-call on 1st and 10 from the 24, and the execution is there until the throw.  Sanchez playfakes, then bootlegs to the outside, which pulls Ryan Clark up the field. Santonio Holmes gets separation from Ike Taylor and runs into a fully vacated Pittsburgh endzone.  If Sanchez lays the ball out in front of Holmes, it’s an easy touchdown the Jets grab a 14-6 lead. Instead, the throw is high and a little behind #10, and the Jets settle for the three points that would be their last of the game. Sanchez has always been praised for his ability to throw on the run, and this play put him in his sweet spot, but the quarterback simply didn’t make the throw.

So now the question is, how will Mark Sanchez respond?  The Jets return to the place where their 2011 season officially and mercilessly went up in flames. Sanchez has a spotty history and just a 2-4 career record vs. Miami. Intriguing times ahead for the Jets’ quarterback.

Sanchez Breakdown: #6 Capable of Operating an NFL Offense

Rob Celletti provides his weekly breakdown of Mark Sanchez’s performance

Every Monday throughout the season Rob Celletti will provide a breakdown of Mark Sanchez’s performance. Also a reminder that I will breaking down the game film in a Q&A column tomorrow, if there is anything you want answered send a Tweet to the Turn On The Jets account

STAT LINE – 19/27, 266 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception – 123.4 QB Rating, 70.3 completion percentage

Watching yesterday’s beatdown of the Buffalo Bills, one thought continuously crossed my mind: “What team am I watching?”

Every single thing the Jets seemed to have trouble doing on offense last year, they got right in their 2012 opener.  Protecting the quarterback? Mark Sanchez was virtually untouched.  Third down efficiency? 10 for 14.  Getting the ball to playmakers in space?  Mark Sanchez completed passes to seven different receivers.

Regardless of the Jets’ “Ground and Pound” mentality, everyone knows that in the 2012 NFL, the quarterback is the engine that makes an offense go.  Yesterday, Sanchez had the Jets operating like a Maserati.  Here’s a closer look at the starting quarterback’s week 1 performance.

The Best: The basic stat line tells you most of what you need to know, but Sanchez also passed the eye test.  After getting over an early hiccup (more on that in a bit), every pass seemed to get out on time and with velocity.  From an accuracy standpoint, that was the best I’ve seen Sanchez throw the ball.  Receivers were running free through a suspect Buffalo secondary and Sanchez got them the ball with ease.  On his first two touchdown throws, Sanchez identified advantageous one-on-one matchups for his receivers and attacked them, opening up space with some deft pump-fakes.  In other words, the Jets looked like an effective NFL offense, something that couldn’t be said often last year.

The Worst: Obviously, the interception.  I’m steadfast in my defense of Sanchez, but my goodness, what a miserable decision he made there.  For better or worse, it seems that this is part of Sanchez’s personality as a quarterback.  He has a bit of the Tony Romo/Ben Roethlisberger tendency to not give up on a play because of his mobility, but clearly the proper decision would have been to throw the ball away or just run out of bounds.

The Key Moment: There were several, really, because it seemed as though every time the Jets needed a drive, Sanchez was able to engineer one, even in what seemed like garbage time when things got hairy at 41-28.  But for the sake of committing to one “turning point” for yesterday’s game, it has to be the drive after the interception.  A lot has been made of Sanchez’s demeanor and response to negative plays during the course of games throughout his young career.  Credit the fourth-year quarterback for bouncing right back yesterday and not allowing any hysteria involving a certain backup quarterback to ensue.  After Darrelle Revis got the ball back for the Jets at their own 39 yard line, Sanchez hooked up with Jeremy Kerley for 21 yards on third down, and then got a little help from the referees via a pass interference call on 3rd and 6 from Buffalo’s 33.  Three plays later, Kerley caught the Jets’ first touchdown on a wonderfully thrown ball to the back right corner of the endzone, and Gang Green was off to the races.

Next week’s clash in Pittsburgh is sure to provide a more stern test for Sanchez and the rest of the Jets offense, but the quarterback’s week 1 performance is still one to be very excited about.

NHL Playoffs: Gearing Up For Game 7

Rob Celletti gears up for game 7 of Rangers/Senators

Man oh man, was I wrong.

In my first round preview, I predicted a fairly easy five-game win for the Rangers in their series over the Ottawa Senators. instead, what’s played out over the last two weeks has been nothing short of an epic clash featuring everything that NHL playoff hockey is all about. In addition to some wonderful and timely goals, there has been tight checking, physical play, and unsung heroes emerging from both sides.

Ottawa has simply answered the bell in this series. I criticized them for not being physical enough to compete with the gritty Rangers, yet Game 2, which really changed the tenor of this series, saw Ottawa become the physical aggressors. They have played on the edge, and sometimes over it, but it caught the Rangers off-guard. Ottawa has been the better team in this series.

Make no mistake, the Rangers have not played well. They’re no offensive juggernaut, but the nearly 200-minute shutout streak put together by Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson from the 2nd period of Game 4 through the 2nd period of Game 6 was nonetheless frustrating and flabbergasting. But with their season on the edge, Brad Richards, he of the 9-year/$60 million contract signed last July, stepped up and justified the money invested in him, leading the Rangers to a season-saving Game 6 victory.

So now, Thursday night arguably becomes the best New York sports night of the year so far. Two area Game 7’s (Devils vs. Panthers in addition to Rangers/Sens), the NFL Draft (which of course, TOJ has been all over), and the Knicks’ season finale.

I refuse to make a prediction, I just look forward to watching the first Rangers game 7 at MSG since June 14, 1994.

New York Rangers: NHL Playoffs First Round Preview

Rob Celletti previews the New York Rangers series versus the Ottawa Senators and the rest of the NHL’s opening round

On Thursday, Madison Square Garden’s “other” tenants begin their push for what is often called the most difficult trophy in sports to win: The Stanley Cup.  The New York Rangers, winners of the Atlantic Division crown and the number one seed in the Eastern Conference will face an interesting test from their first round opponents, the Ottawa Senators.

Having watched an overwhelming majority of the Rangers 82-game regular season (it’s true, I have no life), this matchup seems like a blessing when compared to what seemed like the most likely scenario just a week ago: a rematch with the Washington Capitals, who swiftly knocked the Rangers out of the first round last season in just 5 games.  Yes, the roles were reversed – the Caps the #1 seed last year, the Rangers #8 – but the Capitals remain extremely dangerous because of the presence of Alexander Ovechkin, one of the few non-goaltenders in the modern NHL capable of dominating a series like Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky in decades past.

Instead, the Rangers face an Ottawa team that is front-loaded with skill and speed, but one that is neither very deep nor very tough. The Rangers made their mark this season playing playoff-style hockey throughout their 82-game schedule.  They paid extraordinary attention to defense, blocked a ridiculous amount of shots and relied somewhat heavily on their goaltending. When playing their best, the Rangers are also a very physical team that’s capable of scoring enough, despite what some pundits think (2.71 goals per game, good enough for 11th in the league). Their previously woeful power play has shown signs of life during the final few weeks of the season.

While it’s true that an average goaltender (like Ottawa’s Craig Anderson) getting hot can change the tenor of a series and render the seedings meaningless, it’s hard not to pick the Rangers to sweep this series based solely on the goaltending matchup.  Henrik Lundqvist is slowly but surely entering the mainstream of the New York sports lexicon (the New York Times’ 5-page profile on him from over the weekend is evidence enough) and has not hesitated to mention that he already feels like “the clock is ticking” on his chances to win a Stanley Cup.  The motivated Lundqvist put together a season that should net him the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender. But he wants to accomplish much more than that.

If Lundqvist plays at a high level and the Rangers avoid major injuries, they’re expected to make a deep playoff run this spring  In terms of this first round series against Ottawa, I expect the Rangers to – pardon the cliche – pound Ottawa into submission. They’re simply a more physical team that has been through one of the most challenging and ultimately rewarding regular seasons in team history. Ottawa’s top line of Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek and Daniel Alfredsson poses a threat, but the Rangers boast arguably the best pair of shutdown defensemen in the NHL in Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, who will no doubt spend most of their time opposite the Senators’ stars. In addition to the Rangers usual scoring suspects Marian Gaborik (3rd in the NHL with 41 goals) and Brad Richards (playoff MVP for the Cup-winning Lightning in 2004), look for Brandon Dubinsky to have a big spring as well.

Prediction: Rangers in 5

And now for quick predictions on the other 7 first round series in the NHL:

Eastern Conference

#2 Boston vs. #7 Washington – Capitals in 6

#3 Florida vs. #6 New Jersey – Devils in 5

#4 Pittsburgh vs. #5 Philadelphia – Penguins in 7

Western Conference

#1 Vancouver vs. #8 Los Angeles – Canucks in 6

#2 St. Louis vs. #7 San Jose – Blues in 7

#3 Phoenix vs. #6 Chicago – Blackhawks in 6

#4 Nashville vs. #5 Detroit – Predators in 7

New York Knicks Linsanity: Going Forward

Rob Celletti how will Jeremy Lin mesh with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire when they return?

Last night’s third episode of MSG’s new hit series “Linsanity” was a lot like the first two: exhilarating, uplifting, improbable and ultimately satisfying.  Jeremy Lin has single handedly revived a Knicks team that was practically dead in the water at 8-15 and given New York hope that its basketball team might make something of its 2012 season after all.

Lin’s first two NBA starts are statistically comparable to Isiah Thomas and LeBron James. Pause and read that sentence again. Furthermore, his coach tacitly compared him to Steve Nash. Don’t mistake me for a D’Antoni supporter – I honestly believe he was the main reason for the team’s inexcusably bad start – but the coach knows a thing or two about point guards.

The excitement over Lin is palpable, and even though he’s only played a significant role in three games, it’s very possible that the Knicks have found their solution at point guard. So now the question is, what happens when Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire return?

The Knicks’ offensive efficiency problems have been well-documented since they traded for Carmelo Anthony a year ago. The terms “volume shooter” and “ball-stopper” are commonplace in the Knicks fan’s vernacular. Many analysts don’t believe it’s possible for Stat and ‘Melo to coexist with just one basketball between them.

These are real problems. But if Mike D’Antoni is, as advertised, an offensive guru, now that he has a functioning point guard at his disposal, I think it’s reasonable to expect the Knicks to play at a very high level once their superstars return. Here’s why:

First of all, there might not be a better finisher at the basket than Stoudemire, especially off the pick-and-roll. That’s the bread and butter of the D’Antoni system and Lin has already proven that he can execute it. His instincts are top-notch in terms of whether to keep the ball, pass it to the roll guy, or kick out to an open shooter.

Then, there’s ‘Melo. Make no mistake, I’m a big Carmelo Anthony fan. I’m about as steadfast in my defense of the trade as I am in my defense of Mark Sanchez, which if you know me, is pretty steadfast.  The point is that Anthony is one of the best pure scorers on planet Earth right now and any team with him on the roster is potentially dangerous. But he needs to be deployed the right way, and D’Antoni’s experiment with him at point-forward failed miserably.

Ideally, Anthony will live in his favorite spot on the floor: the wing. Except he won’t start with the ball on every set. Maybe the Knicks screen for him and get an easy bucket on a backdoor cut. Maybe when Lin drives, Anthony’s defender will leave him to help on Lin, and Anthony will have a wide open 18 foot jumper. And yes, there still should be some isolation plays in the Knicks’ arsenal, because there’s no denying ‘Melo’s 1-on-1 talent when he’s firing on all cylinders (see last year’s legendary 48-point performance vs. Boston in the playoffs).

Most importantly, Lin makes the Knicks deeper, allowing them to slot the rest of their players into their natural positions. Iman Shumpert and (hopefully) Toney Douglas will be the energetic combo guards off the bench. Steve Novak and Bill Walker the outside threats, and Jared Jeffries the defensive specialist. If Baron Davis ever gets healthy, he’s certainly not a bad guy to share the backcourt with Lin and show him the ropes in the NBA.

Don’t expect the hysteria to last forever, but at the very least, Jeremy Lin has brought some energy back to the Knicks. Now, the team needs to sustain that success, especially when its two superstars return.

What The Jets Can Learn From The Rangers

What the New York Jets can learn from their city counterparts, the New York Rangers

One of the ways I’ve been able to distract myself from the ulcer-inducing aftermath of the 2011 New York Jets has been to focus on another New York team that I’m extremely passionate about: the New York Rangers.

In case you don’t know (and you might not, since “the worldwide leader in sports” has chosen to bury hockey for the last decade, especially now that it no longer broadcasts hockey games), the Rangers currently stand tied with the Chicago Blackhawks for the best record in the entire NHL.  Say what you want about the Giants, but the New York Rangers have been this city’s most consistent winner since October.  Still, it was no easy task to get to where the Rangers are, and they really aren’t all that close to the ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup anyway; almost three months of regular season, plus four grueling playoff series stand between them and hockey nirvana.

However, I began to think: maybe the Jets could learn a thing or two from the Rangers, despite the fact that hockey and football are two entirely different sports.  The history of these two teams is not all that dissimilar.  Flashes of past glory, but a tradition that consists mostly of disappointment for a large, passionate fanbase.

For those of you not well-versed in Rangers history, here’s the Cliff Notes version:  They have won exactly one championship in the last 72 years.  For the last two decades, the Rangers have largely built their team by bringing in high-priced free agents with flashy names (sound familiar?), with only one instance of success: 1994.  After Mark Messier, the Rangers inked the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Holik, Pavel Bure, Jaromir Jagr, Scott Gomez and Chris Drury, with results ranging from one-and-done playoff appearances to complete and utter disaster.

So, it was time to shake things up.  Sometime within the last six or seven years, the Rangers have instead focused on building their roster through the draft and minor league system.  They brought in a coach with a specific style and personalty and have stuck with him (rather than firing him for missing the playoffs in the 2009-2010 season), allowing the players to mature.  They have supplemented a very young roster with shrewd trades and yes, one or two big-money free agent acquisitions.

Here are five lessons the Jets can learn from the Rangers:

Lesson 1: Patience

When the Rangers hired coach John Tortorella in the winter of 2009 after firing Tom Renney, the organization began to change its philosophy.  The changes were subtle at first, and they would take time to implement.  The first lesson the Jets could learn?  Patience. Tortorella knew that the roster he inherited in 2009 was not one that could win a championship. The goal was, instead, was to simply improve the team on a day-by-day basis, not only in hockey terms, but also in terms of how it was built (read: slowly, and through the draft). “One step at a time” might be the most insufferable sports cliche of them all, but it has become the Rangers’ mantra. Now in 2012, three full years later, they are seeing the results of that approach.

Lesson 2: Leadership

One of the organization’s goals was also to cultivate an internal leadership group among the players so that “the locker room could sustain itself,” as Tortorella likes to say. Sounds like the complete opposite of the Jets, doesn’t it?  One of the most direct comparisons between the two teams across completely different sports is the choosing of captains. Football has even gone so far as to copy hockey and put the letter “C” on the designated player’s uniform.  Tortorella’s choices for captains (one player gets a “C” and two get “A”‘s as alternate captains, for the uninitiated) were easy:

Ryan Callahan, captain – a player who embodies the Rangers’ aggressive yet responsible style of play and leads by example; 4th round pick (127th overall) in the 2004 draft.

Marc Staal, alternate – when healthy (he missed roughly the first half of the season with a concussion and is just getting his feet back under him after about 10 games now), one of the best shutdown defensemen in the NHL; 1st round pick in the 2005 draft.

Brad Richards, alternate – Richards was the Rangers big free agent splash last summer, but he played under John Tortorella in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning.  That team won a Stanley Cup; Richards was the playoff MVP, awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy. Tortorella felt that Richards was the perfect veteran role model that some of the younger Rangers needed to show them how to be a professional, on and off the ice.

Lesson 3: Identity

Perhaps what doomed the Jets even more than their locker room squabbles was the loss of their identity as a team that wanted to dominate the line of scrimmage, run the ball, and play great defense. Ground and Pound was forgotten. The Jets were all of a sudden slow at linebacker and were gashed by opposing running backs more than anyone could have predicted.  What could they learn from the Rangers in this regard?  Pick your style, embrace it, stick to it, and build your team around it.

The Rangers have become one of the toughest teams in the NHL to play against.  They’ve allowed the 2nd fewest goals in the league.  They are built from their net out, with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist providing the foundation that the team stands on. If quarterback is the most important position in football, goalie is that position in hockey. The Rangers are covered there, as Lundqvist is putting together another Vezina Trophy caliber season as one of the league’s best goalies.

The similarities between the teams are more obvious than you’d think. Neither the Rangers defense-first approach nor the Jets “ground and pound” mantra will consistently score style points or entertain the masses. They leave open the possibility of close, late losses, simply because the offense might not generate enough goals or points.  But they are both effective philosophies that, applied over the long-haul, can lead to consistent winning.

Lesson 4: Narrow the Focus

Earlier this week, Madison Square Garden Chairman James L. Dolan made a bold proclamation that the Rangers were “close” to winning a Stanley Cup. John Tortorella quickly fired back, calling that “a bunch of bullshit”. Tortorella wasn’t trying to embarrass his boss, rather, he was trying to keep his team’s focus where it should be: on the next game. Cups are not awarded in January.

Super Bowls are not awarded in June.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the Jets often let their focus stray too far down the road.  I’m not saying the Super Bowl shouldn’t be the goal every year, because it should be.  But it might be time for Rex Ryan to shelve some of his dramatic predictions (no matter what their motives actually are) and just focus on winning the next game.  In all professional sports, there’s an element of “grinding” through a long season to get to where you want to be.  The 2011 Jets were not a team that was willing to grind (their losses to the Raiders and Eagles are great examples of this, I think) through the less exciting parts of their schedule.

Lesson 5: The Right Amount of Swagger

There’s a fine line in all sports between confidence and cockiness. A team is in danger though, when it begins to believe its own hype. Part of what made the Jets successful in 2009 and 2010 was their brash, “we can beat anybody” attitude. The other side of that coin is the overconfidence that this cultivates, and results in a season like 2011.

The Rangers are never going to be guaranteeing victories in the media before games (unless Mark Messier laces ’em up again), but the belief in their ability is there.  The team plays with a quiet confidence. Young defenseman Michael Del Zotto has said repeatedly that coach Tortorella urges him to play “with swagger”.  The message is there, it’s just not broadcast.

So there you have it: five lessons that the Jets would be well-served to learn from their unlikely hockey counterparts before they kick off their 2012 campaign.  There are plenty of football-specific moves that need to be made, and will be discussed ad nauseum here and plenty of other places.

In the meantime, I urge even non-hockey fans flip on MSG (provided you’re not subject to the Time Warner Cable/MSG Network mess) and take a look at a team that has been New York’s most consistent winner since October. There’s a lot to like.

Cooler Heads Must Prevail for the Jets

The New York Jets need to get their house in order immediately

Right now, the world of the New York Jets is spiraling out of control in ways that couldn’t have been imagined in the Rex Ryan era; purported to be one of continued success and stability for an organization that has seriously lacked both of those things for the better part of 50 years.

Driven by a dysfunctional locker room and a bloodthirsty New York tabloid media, the perception of the Jets is such that everything is in flux and no one’s job is safe.  Outside of Rex Ryan being the team’s head coach, what can be counted on for this team as 2012 get underway?  It appears as though Tony Sparano and perhaps Todd Haley will be brought in to revamp the offense, while fans and – if the suddenly unprofessional and irresponsible Manish Mehta of the Daily News is to be believed – some players have called for Mark Sanchez to be replaced by Peyton Manning.

What really needs to happen?  Cooler heads must prevail.

It’s time for Rex Ryan to call a press conference, diffuse some of this media-driven chaos, and most importantly get his players in line.  Credit should go to Jim Leonhard and Nick Mangold, who have already come to Mark Sanchez’s defense on Twitter.

The Jets were a flawed bunch on both sides of the ball and their record reflected that. Rightfully, much of the blame fell on the quarterback because of the offense’s struggles at key moments during the season. But remember, the Jets were 8-8, not 2-14.  Mark Sanchez threw 26 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, not 5 and 24.

The point is, things are bad for the Jets right now, but they’re not as catastrophic as they seem.  Changes, particularly in offensive philosophy, needed to be made, and are being made (whether or not Sparano is the right move is another debate for another day).

Perhaps more importantly, a new leadership group must emerge for the Jets amongst the players themselves.  Rex Ryan, Brian Schottenheimer and the rest of the coaches can only take so much blame for the Jets’ dysfunction. Players must police themselves, and guys like Nick Mangold, Darrelle Revis, Sione Pouha, and most importantly, Mark Sanchez must become the ones who keep order, especially when things don’t go right.

New York Jets: A Report From The Road

What is it like traveling on the road to watch the New York Jets play?

I had the pleasure of making a road trip down to Washington, DC last week for the Jets’ at times frustrating yet ultimately very satisfying 34-19 win over the Redskins.  As usual, the game has been discussed at length and everyone is rightfully looking forward to the task at hand: the Kansas City Chiefs.  But I wanted to quickly recap some of the non-game facets of the trip.

There has been a fair amount of criticism in this space and elsewhere regarding the atmosphere at Jets games, the shortcomings of MetLife Stadium, the behavior of Jets fans and so on. All of that criticism is still justified, but after visiting FedEx Field, I realized that things in East Rutherford might not be so bad after all.

A friend of mine, who lived in Washington, DC for four years, described FedEx Field as “a soulless venue.”  This mostly has to do with the fact that the Redskins have had five winning seasons and four playoff appearances since 1992. Still, there was little to no energy in the building at kickoff.  As a matter of fact, about half of the stadium was empty, and people were still finding their seats with as late as 1:45 left in the first quarter. The Jet crowd (and most New York crowds nowadays) is notoriously late-arriving, but it has never been like that.

One cool moment occurred after the Redskins scored a touchdown on the opening drive.  After the extra point, the Redskins Marching Band (yes, they have a band, and yes, it sort of makes you feel like you’re at a high school game) broke into “Hail to the Redskins”, with the entire crowd singing along.

As an aside: I’m a big soccer fan and part of the reason I became one was the incredible atmosphere at English Premier League games. Hearing 40,000 people sing in unison to spur on their team is something that struck me, even only on television. So even though “Hail to the Redskins” has a decidedly college football feel, I was reminded of a soccer crowd. But in terms of positive atmosphere and energy from ‘Skins fans, that was it.

From a road fan perspective, I expected to sit quietly and watch the game, so as not to draw the attention and ire of the home crowd. However, section 430 at FedEx Field might as well have been section 317 at MetLife stadium, as there were hundreds of fellow gang green supporters nearby.  As the game progressed, my exaltations (and frustrations) were expressed out loud, with no threat of retribution. As a matter of fact, it seemed like ‘Skins fans were indifferent to the result of the game.

Seeing so many Jets fans at a road game renewed some of my faith in what I called one of the most negative fan-bases in sports just last week. Almost every fan I came in contact with was positive about the team, excited about the game and ready to show their support on the road.

They always say that the Steelers and Packers travel best, but when roughly 15,000 Jets fans at FedEx Field made the “J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets!” reverberate through vacated seats and concourses, I knew the trip was worth it.

New York Jets Fans Need Attitude Adjustment

Rob Celletti on the attitude adjustment needed from New York Jets fans to help create some type of homefield advantage

It all makes sense now.

As I watched Mark Sanchez give his post-game press conference in the aftermath of Sunday’s sloppy but exhilarating win over Buffalo, the third-year Jets quarterback never once even came close to cracking a smile.  After such an emotional and important win, the quarterback exuded zero positive energy.  He said, stone-faced, that he was “thrilled” with the win, but his body language suggested otherwise.

Sanchez was certainly being self-critical, as he was well aware that outside of two drives, he didn’t play well.  But I also think he was still bristling, with a bruised ego, at the lack of support he and his teammates received from their supposed home crowd.

Jim Leonhard revealed today in an interview on WFAN that he and presumably a good number of his Jets teammates were miffed at the fact that their starting quarterback was booed by the MetLife Stadium faithful.  No, not during the game (though that happened too). BEFORE the game.  During pre-game introductions; the organized theatrics that are designed for the sole purpose of pumping up both the team and the fans for an important game.

And come to think of it, did Sanchez celebrate any one of his 4 touchdown passes on the day? There was an article earlier today noting that Sanchez was actually caught on camera in a noticeable rage after the go-ahead score, screaming at an unidentified coach/teammate.

It’s hard to articulate how infuriating, stupid, shortsighted, classless and wholly “Same Old Jets” this situation is. Yeah, I just dropped those three words.

Because this is what Jets fans did BEFORE Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez and the change of culture that those two men have brought about. Before Rex, the media and fans surrounding the Jets couldn’t wait for their athletes and coaches to fail so they could release the hounds. Unlike any other fan base in sports, it seems that Jets fans particularly relish these moments.

Most notably and recently, they did it to Chad Pennington, who was guilty only of playing hard and playing hurt. Congratulations, Jets fans.  You ran Chad out of town (he went and won the division the next year, by the way). And in return, you got Kellen Clemens and Brett Favre.

But I digress. The point is that those days were supposed to be over. Those days are over. But that doesn’t mean the Jets are an invincible force. This year, they’re just another team scrapping for a playoff spot.  There’s nothing wrong with that, especially after making it to two consecutive AFC Championship games.

So why are we not proud of this team?  Why not revel in the excitement of meaningful football in November and December?  Why not cheer as loud as possible to give the Jets a boost rather than kick them while they’re down?

Why do we show up at MetLife Stadium (about 50% of us at least 15 or 20 minutes late) and boo the starting quarterback before the game starts? What does this accomplish? And what does this say about the franchise?

Perhaps because of Rex’s blustery personality and endless Super Bowl guarantees, Jets fans expect the team to go 16-0 every year. Those are unreasonable expectations. As are the expectations that Mark Sanchez will become Peyton Manning overnight just because this is supposed to be the Magical Third NFL Season. Keep in mind that Ryan and Sanchez are probably the two biggest reasons that 2009-2011 have been three of the most successful years in Jets history, even in the midst of all the most recent struggles.

The bottom line is that Jets fans need to change their attitude, or they’re going to be at least partly responsible for returning that all too familiar toxic, losing atmosphere to East Rutherford, NJ.

Standing Up for Sanchez

Jets fans need to come to grip with reality, when it comes to their criticism of Mark Sanchez

Two and a half seasons into the Rex Ryan era – which is, by the way, one of the most successful stretches in the history of the New York Jets – it seems a little crazy to have to do what I’m about to do.

I need to defend the quarterback.

Because even though the Jets have won 25 of their last 40 regular season games, plus 4 playoff games, a large segment of the media and Jets fan base remains thoroughly unconvinced that Mark Sanchez is capable of leading this team to their ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl.

The modern NFL fan lives in the Golden Age of Overanalysis.  Anyone with a computer can pontificate on a sport that is nearly impossible to reduce to simple and absolute terms.  The easiest target for praise and criticism is of course, the quarterback. It is bad enough that ESPN, which sets the agenda for all sports discussion, has declared this “The Year of the Quarterback” and has even devised their own ratings system to try and replace the traditional NFL Passer Rating statistic.

For these reasons, Jets fans have spent the last three years debating Sanchez.  So allow me to make it easy for you: Mark Sanchez is indeed more than good enough to lead the Jets to the promised land.  You can relax now.

This past Sunday’s game against Buffalo was a microcosm of Sanchez’s career so far.  At halftime, there was hysterical panic among Jets fans because of the two costly errors Sanchez made: a drive-killing endzone interception and a botched snap after the Jets’ defense had produced a turnover late in the second half.

However, as he has on numerous occasions throughout his career, Sanchez raised his game in the second half.  He led the Jets on four consecutive scoring drives which provided more than enough points to beat the Bills, who were struggling to get yards against a ferocious Jets defense.  Outside of the interception, Sanchez was nearly flawless on the day, completing 71% of his passes and firing a laser of a touchdown to Santonio Holmes, the type of throw that proves Sanchez has some pretty impressive raw ability when he puts it all together.

And that’s really the key with the Sanchez debate: the when.  In this age of instant gratification, fans are tired of hearing the argument that he’s young and still developing.  But the truth is that he is. He’s 24 years old.  Some perspective: Aaron Rodgers, the “Elite (there’s that damn word again) Quarterback Du Jour” didn’t start an NFL game until his age 25 season.  By the way, the Packers went 6-10 in Rodgers’ first season.

Really, Sanchez never needs to be Aaron Rodgers, or Drew Brees, or Peyton Manning.  He just needs to be the best possible version of himself.  The version that shows up in big games and in the playoffs.  The version that outplayed the best – Tom Brady – in Foxboro last January, giving Jets fans their most memorable and important victory since Super Bowl III.

Here’s the thing though: he’s going to make more mistakes.  I hate to break that to you, but it is true. He’s going to have more bad games. To expect that he’s not, is foolish. What should comfort every Jets fan is that this is true of every single quarterback in the league, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady (who, by the way, has thrown 10 interceptions this season; Sanchez has thrown 7) included.  Mistakes and interceptions happen.  That’s just football.

And so, we need to be fair to Sanchez, which I don’t think a lot of people have been. Every bad throw cannot be a referendum on his career. Instead, look at his statistical progress. Look at his performance in important games. Look at the team’s record since 2009.  Most importantly, look at his youth and the fact that the Jets have stability at the most important position for the first time in a long time.  Look at some of the other teams in the NFL, who are currently quarterbacked by guys named Beck/Grossman, Jackson, Moore, McCoy, Painter, Gabbert, Tebow, Ponder and Skelton.

Wouldn’t you rather have Mark Sanchez?  I know I would.